Time to sit and take note

Now is the time to do a floral performance review on your garden and make plans for next year, writes JANE POWERS

Now is the time to do a floral performance review on your garden and make plans for next year, writes JANE POWERS

NOW, AT THE tail end of summer, the garden is at its most mature and voluminous: bursting with blooms, crowded with foliage and – if you’re a backyard grower – replete with food. This is the time when plants are peaking, they will never be fuller or more complex than now, just before the gradual deflation and winding down of autumn.

There are no gaps in the horticultural composition: the planting has been so well planned that everything comes together in a final and perfectly orchestrated end-of-season climax. In your dreams. In my dreams. In every gardener’s dreams.

Reality usually presents a rather different and more spotty picture. There are places where there are holes in the planting, other places where thugs have smothered all around them, and still others where plants with clashing colours have become uncongenial and angry bedfellows. Now, while all of this is manifest, is the time to spend an hour or two assessing the garden, doing what they call in business, an “annual performance review”.


Take notes, lots of notes. And take photos – preferably not in bright sunlight, as this blasts out the colours on the images. Record-keeping such as this is essential, as mistakes, and even triumphs, are soon forgotten. Our memories become muffled by the din of the march of the seasons. So, make a note of which plants did well, and which didn’t (and whether they should be given a second chance or sent to the compost bin). If you grow things that you replant each year, such as annuals and vegetables, list which ones you want to grow again, and which are not for you. Write down which areas look dull or just wrong, and consider whether they need a quick adjustment such as the addition of an interesting shrub or tree, or if they need a total rethink.

Notice where plants are crowded, or too large for the space allotted to them: can they be pruned, or should they be turned into firewood or compost fodder? In our borders, for instance, we have lots of the hardy geranium ‘Rozanne’. It really is too vigorous for here (each plant can form a two-metre-wide mound in our mild garden), but I love its months-long eruption of mauve flowers. So, we keep it under control by selective pruning several times in the season – regularly chopping bits off the front or back, from which it regenerates and flowers anew.

Take a look at the bigger picture in the garden: are there spaces that need opening up to create a view, or are there eyesores that require screening? Perhaps there are paths that have become overgrown and need clearing, or that need relaying or resurfacing. Or maybe your walkways are in the wrong place and should to be done away with or redirected. Are there climber-clad arches that you can’t walk through because the plants have elbowed you out? (If so, it may be that your arch is too narrow, and needs to be replaced with a more generous version, at least 120 centimetres wide.) How are your garden furniture and structures looking: does anything need painting and repairing?

Make a note of all of this. And, while you are in this surveying and assessing mood, sit on all your garden seats, and take a look at the view with a new and critical eye. A good garden seat has two aesthetic roles: it looks inviting, and it gives the sitter a pleasant prospect – not of the oil tank or the junkiest corner in the garden. In small gardens or built-up areas, gaining an agreeable view isn’t as simple as just moving a chair or bench. I know this from experience, as our own garden is surrounded by the unlovely back-ends of many buildings. If this is your problem too, make sure that there is enough interesting planting around the seat to keep the sitter’s attention from wandering.

If you’re the kind of person who wants to keep pressing on after you’ve made all your notes and taken all your photos, then there are things you can get going on immediately. These include sowing grass, digging up unwanted herbaceous stuff, and planting hardy perennials. But do take some time out to visit other people’s gardens now, to keep your eye in (now that you’ve trained it on your patch), and to look for ideas that you might borrow. Many gardens that are open to the public have end-of-season plant sales, so you can stock up your borders after nosing around theirs.

Diary date

Today (August 27th), 3-5pm: Delgany and District Horticultural Society dahlia show and plant sale at St Patrick’s School, Church Road, Greystones, Co Wicklow.

Admission: €2

On the garden trail

The Lough Derg Garden Trail is a new route with nine participating gardens (both publicly-owned and private) in the Shannon region. Most of the gardens are two hours from Dublin and Cork, and one hour from Limerick and Galway, so are perfect for day-trippers. See loughderggardens.com